Is Houston a runaway favorite?

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By Houston Astros (https://twitter.com/astros) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As the New Year kicks off it is time to start looking forward to the 2017 baseball season. I decide the best way to start is to look at the teams that are front runners for their respective divisions.

Today we are focusing on the Houston Astros. After two surprisingly good seasons the Astros likely come in to 2017 as the favorite to win the AL West. On paper they have one of the stoutest lineups in all of baseball with huge power from start to finish. On paper however is not where games are played.

Houston’s pitching staff is full of young live arms, but at times in 2016 they were inconsistent at best. Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh will be mainstays of the rotation with Joe Musgrove likely next in line. After that however it is yet to be seen who will follow. In baseball youth is a virtue, but with youth comes a certain unpredictability. Youth isn’t just found in the Astro’s pitching staff either, as their lineup will be one of the youngest in baseball as it was the last two years.

With young studs all over the infield and extra talent brought in this offseason it remains to be seen how the Astros will get everyone on the field. Players like Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Reed and Tyler White will likely see extended time on the bench or in the minors due to the log jam of talent. With another year of solid defense and outstanding power out of guys like George Springer, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman runs will come in bunches. Only downside to this offense is the amount of swing and miss that will be in the lineup.

Houston’s offensive prowess will carry them for this season and for the near term future, but will it be enough to overcome what was at times very shaky pitching is yet to be seen.

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Power Hitting Second Basemen

It has been well documented throughout 2016 by fantasy baseball analysts that MLB has become a homer happy league. Players left and right appear to be selling out for the long ball. That trend has taken one of the shallowest positions in baseball, second base, and made it a prime power spot. In 2015 there were three second base eligible fantasy players that finished with more than 20 home runs (Matt Carpenter, Brian Dozier and Robinson Cano) and none with more than 28. Already in 2016 we have 12 players at that position with at least 21 home runs and another six with more than 15 giving them a shot to break the 20 home run barrier. On top of that three of the 12 have 30 or more. Without a doubt the fantasy baseball landscape has changed and that change has been to draft second basemen as power hitters rather than speedsters.

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By Ryan Claussen on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Leading the way in power for second basemen is Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins. He has the second most home runs in all of baseball at 38. Yes, I typed that correctly the second most in all of baseball behind Mark Trumbo. Dozier took his career high 28 home runs he had last season and blew it out of the water, but that’s not the only change he has made. As of right now he has a batting average 32 points higher than his career average. He has a career high slugging of .579 and on-base percentage of .350. With his three home run performance yesterday he has hit six home runs in four games. If this is who Dozier is as a player moving forward we won’t be looking at him as just a top second baseman, he may be one of the top 10 players in all of fantasy.

Another middle infielder that is on a major hot streak is second baseman Rougned Odor. Odor is only 22 years old, but is displaying power numbers of a much more mature hitter. Over his last seven games he has six home runs and has a slugging percentage of 1.129. On the season he has 30 home runs and 29 doubles to go with his 12 stolen bases and career high .283 batting average. He ranks third among second baseman in home runs and is tied for 17th overall. If Odor’s 2016 numbers are a vision of what is to come for him, we may be looking at him as a future hall of famer. Only thing that Odor doesn’t seem to be doing right is controlling his temper and taking a walk.

We have highlighted two great power hitting second baseman, but the list of hard hitting studs is long. It includes names like Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, Jedd Gyorko, Daniel Murphy and Ian Kinsler. Not to mention the best all-around second baseman, and possible AL MVP, Jose Altuve who has 22 bombs and 27 stolen bases. The list is way too long to talk about all of these guys in depth.

What if anything is actionable for this season? Probably nothing unless you’re in a keeper league where you can still trade. For 2017 however all of this should be kept in mind when planning out your draft day strategy.

Look Out Story, Here Comes Sanchez

Gary Sanchez

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez has done something this season that no other rookie has done since, well since Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story did to start the season. Sanchez has hit nine home runs in his first 21 games. He is only one of nine players in MLB history to have 15 or more extra base hits in 21 games and only the second Yankee to do it. Let’s not forget those 21 games include two games in 2015 that he was called up for and one games on May 13th this season before he was sent back to Triple-A.

Though Story and Sanchez do share this honor of being two of a very few hitters to have nine home runs in their first 21 games they both are very different hitters. Story has produced a lot of power this season, but he is not the all-around hitter that Sanchez is showing to be. Story’s home runs are wall scrapers, with an average home run distance of 327 feet, while Sanchez hits not doubter and averages 409 feet. In 2016 Story has an average exit velocity of 91.5 mph as compared to Sanchez’s 94.6 mph. Don’t take my word for it though let’s dive deeper in to what these two rookies did in their first 21 games in the big leagues.

In his first 21 games with the Diamondbacks Trevor Story was putting balls over the wall like it was going out of style. He had ten home runs, one more than Sanchez, but he was prone to the strikeout. Through those first 21 games Story had 35 strikeouts in 97 plate appearances, he was striking out in 36% of his plate appearances. He had a .253 batting average, a .320 on-base percentage and nine walks (only walking in 9% of his PAs).
Sanchez on the other hand has not shown so far to be an all or nothing player. He is hitting .389 with a .450 OBP, only striking out 15 times in 80 plate appearances (19% of the time he strikes out) and walking 10% of the time with 8 walks so far.

Comparing two players strictly based on a 21 game sample size is far from fair and when you look at their minor league numbers these two players do look more similar than they do different with Story having a minor league slash line of .263/.348/.469 and Sanchez .275/.339/.460, but what they will do in the majors long term is still yet to be seen. What is fair to say is that both Sanchez and Story have shown they belong in the big leagues and love to put on a show for the fans. Only thing not enjoying their promotions this year are the baseballs.

(Photo Credit: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Gary Sanchez) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Gurriel to Make His MLB Debut

download-5_origWith Yulieski Gourriel  (Gurreil) finally making his MLB debut for the Astros we thought we would repost what we wrote about him earlier this year.

Original posting from earlier this year. 

Over the weekend Cuban superstar Yulieski Gourriel  (Gurriel) signed with the Houston Astros. This 32 year old infielder has had Twitter buzzing for a few weeks now as he worked out for multiple major league teams. We ask the question, who is Yulieski Gourriel?

Yulieski Gurriel is from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. Gurriel, which sometimes is spelled Gurriel for some reason, is 6’0, 196 lbs, bats and throws right and can play second or third base. He has played professionally since he was 17 or since 2001. Over that time he has played in 925 games, 5,491 plate appearances, 974 runs, 1585 hits, 250 home runs, 1,018 RBIs, 121 stolen bases, 611 walks and a career slash line of .335/.417/.580. For reference purposes we can compare his slash line to Chicago White Sox player Jose Abreu while in Cuba, .341/.456/.622.

Now that Gurriel is signed he will likely report to either Triple-A or Double-A for Houston and spend around a month before we see him in the big leagues. With Altuve already cemented in as the every day second baseman for the Astros it is anticipated that Gurriel will play third base when he arrives in the big leagues. Expectations will be high as he is the biggest Cuban born star to come to the majors in years, but temper your enthusiasm as it’s important to recognize that he is 32 years old and has had a layoff from facing competitive pitching. With that being said, he is a great late season speculative add in just about any fantasy league and could payoff big time if he lives up to the hype